Broadcast 12/12/2010 from The Armstrong & Miller show Series 2 Episode 6.
- Start Here
- Peak Oil
- Debt Crisis
- My Work
- The Blog
A great little 6 min video by Peter Sinclair for The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media contains most of the important visualisations of how the extent of Arctic sea ice has declined over the last 30 years, reaching the lowest volume since records began in September of 2012.
In one of the better talks about climate destabilisation I have seen, David Roberts of Grist.org talks about the main causes and effects surrounding the topic. He covers the various scenarios of temperature rise in particular the really dangerous possibility the many positive feedback loops the earth’s climate system has will cause irreversible temperature rise that cause such profound change that will make much of the planet uninhabitable or in his words “you go outside and die of hotness”.
He ends on the note that global carbon emissions need to peak within the next 5-10 years and rapidly decline every year thereafter. Every year we wait will just mean that it costs us more. Addressing this challenge will be the next generations job for the rest of their lives. Indeed.
There is also a remixed version with some video and music mixed in. The video bits were good but I found the music a little distracting on occasion. Up to you which you would like to watch, same basic content. Click here to watch the remixed versionClimate Change, Climate Destabilisation, Climate Science, fossil fuel, Global Warming
Andreas Schafer, director of the Martin Center for Architectural and Urban Studies at the University of Cambridge, discusses the impact of the transportation sector with respect to climate destabilisation (change) and growing carbon emissions. Specifically he talks about the specific factors at play including passenger kilometres travelled (PKT), energy intensity per PKT and emissions intensity of given fuels with data for various countries at differing stages of economic prosperity. Andreas finds a lot of commonality between the amount of time different countries populations spend travelling and the proportion of GDP they spend doing so.
While there are vast differences in emissions impact between countries they all seem to follow a similar trend as they develop, it’s just where they lie on that curve. As people get richer they generally spend more on faster modes of transport (walking > bike > car > train > plane/high speed rail) and cover more kilometres/miles. This is compounded by the fact that as countries get richer, there has been a tendency for more women in the workforce which has resulted in less children and lower occupancy rates in vehicles (as well as more money to spend on travel). The existing trends for energy intensity are also heading in the wrong direction becoming higher and not lower. The gains made in engine efficiency have been more than offset by larger, faster and more powerful vehicles and the example of Toyota Camry has shown that 24 years of advancement has resulted in a 20% increase in fuel use. He also quickly summarises the relative carbon intensity of various fuel/vehicle combinations although most of the alternative fuels are a long way away from being at the scale our current conventional oil fuels are used.
Andreas then looks to the future to see what the potential impact policies can help to guide technology and social/behavioural patterns into creating a sustainable transport systems. In short, with the most effective policies in place we might be able to reduce emissions intensity of the worldwide by 30-50%, the impact of massive populations of the emerging countries such as China behaving more like western countries is likely to lead to at best a doubling of emissions from transport. Without these policies it could be 3 to 4 times more than today.
For a link to his co-authored official work – Transportation in a Climate-Constrained World – and raw data from some of his slides please visit www.transportandclimate.comClimate Change, Climate Destabilisation, Conventional oil, Stanford University, Transport, Video
I finished reading Paul Gilding’s book The Great Disruption earlier today and I believe it is the most important book I have read since Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers and would heartily recommend both. In the absence of the book I have found a video of a 30 min talk Paul gave to the World Affairs Council (with another 35 mins of Q&A). Or you can view the abridged 16 min version at the bottom.
The main ideas of the book are that the environmental movement has failed to cause a cultural change that will enable us to take pre-emptive action and avoid the serious impacts of climate change and resource depletion. Despite decades of effort, the world is still in denial. But when looking at human psychology and serious world events this is not actually surprising. As Paul argues – we are slow, but not stupid. The obvious prior example is World War II. Hitler and the stirring of Germany was not a new idea when war was declared in 1939. Prior to that there was much denial about the real threat of Germany, most notably the political policy of appeasement. But once war was declared things changed remarkably quickly and policies and achievements that seemed impossible before all of a sudden happened. Paul believes we are in much the same situation and it will take a great deal of climate pain for the world to wake up from its state of denial. Once this happens the world will go to war decarbonising our economies and it will happen at a pace that seems incomprehensible now. Paul argues that this will happen because there is no other choice. This is the key problem now, there is a choice.
But the story doesn’t end there. Paul argues that the climate problem is not the base problem, but the symptom of a much larger issue – the worldwide pursuit of endless economic growth on a finite planet. The economic model on which we base our societies is flawed and at some point needs to change to a steady state economy. Again this is not a new idea, it was acknowledged my many of the fathers of economics. But listening to politicians of today, the mantra of growth is so firmly embedded in our attitudes that it will take many years of failed growth for the idea that we have reached our planetary limits to sink in. While the transition will likely be unpleasant, the destination of an economy that has limits on the resources it uses and the pollution it produces is a positive one. It will mean a redistribution of wealth and a more equitable society. Despite the commonly held view that more money equals happiness (true only if it pulls you out of poverty), research shows that more equitable societies are much healthier societies. It could mean that advances in productivity translates into less time working.
One can argue that the book has a slightly optimistic outcome, one where we are successful in meeting the climate challenge. We could fail, just a few different decisions taken in WWII might of resulted in the citizens of the UK saluting the Fatherland. It does gloss over the difficulties to come. But (again as Paul touches on) if we are to be successful in meeting the upcoming challenges we will have to be outwardly positive and optimistic even if we sometimes inwardly doubt ourselves. It is equally incorrect to assume that society will just collapse without a fight and we are often pessimistic of what we can achieve when we really put our minds to it.
Where the truth lies I don’t know, but this book has articulated many of the feelings I have on where the world is at. You can argue about the details but the underlying ideas in the book are spot on. It is an important book as it has helped me come to the realisation that those of us not in denial need to spend less time fighting those that are (as the evidence will become overwhelming) and more time preparing for the great disruption.
I urge you to buy the book The Great Disruption. The link goes to amazon so you have the most amount of reviews to read, but please try and buy from your local bookstore (unless you have a kindle/ipad).China, Climate Change, Climate Destabilisation, Climate Science, Economics, Economy, environment, fossil fuel, GDP, Global Warming, Growth, Paul Gilding, population, Renewables, sustainability, Video
I watched the documentary Gasland which was put together by Josh Fox a month or so ago and really enjoyed it. Well maybe enjoy isn’t the right word. Since then my information journey into oil has spilled into the very similar world of natural gas (the csis.org talks on the subject in particular) so I feel I can comment on the film.
In this last decade production from unconventional gas has grown from almost nothing in 2002 to around 25% of North American gas production in 2011 (with shale gas and coal bed methane accounting for around 10% each). It is a boom of epic proportions that has it’s roots in a 1980′s tax break for unconventional gas production. Since the ’80′s experimentation has taken place in the Barnett Shale region (Texas) of methods to unlock the “tight” gas through various techniques. Through a lot of trial and error a breakthrough was made in 1998 where the right mix of water, chemicals and sand was pumped down a well bore under extremely high pressure in a process called hydraulic fracturing, fracking (or fraccing) for short. It basically untightens the gas by generating lots of mini earthquakes that create cracks in the rock which are propped open by the sand allowing the gas to flow (increasing permeability).
The basic premise of Gasland is that this method of gas production is harmful to the environment and to human health. Josh’s main concern is that natural gas is now being found in water aquifers used for drinking water purposes and once they are contaminated there is no going back. Water from then on will have to be treated and being an ex water industry employee I can testify that that will be very expensive. This is demonstrated with alarming precision with the numerous kitchen taps that are lit on fire. He also raises questions about the chemicals used in the fracking fluids which the companies can keep secret as they are propriety knowledge needed for competitive advantage as well as the impacts on air quality to local residents health. All throughout the film Josh questions why there is not sufficient regulation in place to prevent this.
Unsurprisingly there has been some criticism directed towards this documentary for not being “accurate”. Most notably comments about how methane can be naturally occurring in groundwater, something which is not mentioned throughout the documentary despite Josh apparently knowing this. The extent of the importance on this point I cannot comment. But for me the main point of the film is how can a process so new, with so many questions surrounding it be allowed to carry on without the gas industry proving that it is indeed safe before they proceed with one of the greatest gas booms in history?
This is an extremely legitimate question and one in which the US Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu asked forming the SEAB subcommitee to look into it. These questions still stand, most notably:
- the degree at which best practice fracking operations are conducted.
- the amount of monitoring conducted establishing a baseline and showing the post-frac effects.
- the quality of well casings installed, assumed to be the main cause of leakage into aquifers.
- the ability of fracking to generate small surface earthquakes.
For me one of the main questions is the amount of fugitive gas (mainly methane) emissions that are released over the lifetime of the well. One of the main reasons there has been a rush to gas is that is seen as a cleaner, more climate change friendly fuel. The perfect fuel to help the transition to a zero carbon energy system. But it would only take a small percentage of leakage for the overall effect of shale gas to be just as bad as coal. And for those who know that the immediate warming effects of methane are much higher than CO2 (72 time over a 20 year period, 25 times over 100 years) we can legitimately ask what is the point, especially when it further deflects spending on renewable energy sources.
So I can only hope that the rest of the world is in not such a hurry as the US is rushing into shale gas without first answering the many questions that Gasland helps to raise. Europe, particularly France, does not seem keen on it. But without China and India proceeding with similar caution the climate change game could well be over.
Here is what I believe to be a shortened version (46 mins) of the full hour and a half Gasland film. Please see the full length film through legitimate means or at least donate via www.gaslandthemovie.com (which is a little hypocritical of me, but sorry Josh I’m keeping my limited funds for my own war chest). Should 46 mins be too long for you, you can get the cliff notes from the 7 min clip at the bottom.
Dylan Ratigan Show clip
This video taken from Wonderfest 2008, Festival of Science poses the question “Does Civilization Have a Promising Energy Future?” to a series of speakers including the now US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu who moderates the panel. While there isn’t much new (at least for me) in this talk it is an excellent round up of the general issues facing energy and climate change today. In particular there are some good descriptions, including perhaps the best climate change metaphor I have heard to date (which I won’t spoil, watch the first 10 mins for it). So thank you Dr. Chu I think I will have to steal that one.
Steven Chu (mediator) – Nobel Laureate & Director, Lawrence Berkeley Lab
Dan Kammen (conservation) – Professor of Energy Resources, UC Berkeley
Mike McGehee (solar) – Assoc. Prof. of Materials Science & Engineering, Stanford,
Lynn Orr (carbon capture) – Professor of Petroleum Engineering, Stanford
Per Peterson (fission) – Professor of Nuclear Engineering, UC Berkeley
This was a really interesting talk. Journalist and historian Gwynne Dyer is clearly a knowledgeable guy being able to speak ad lib for 90 minutes on the ramifications of what would happen in a world were we don’t make the changes necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. In his research for his book – Climate Wars – he talked to many senior military strategic figures who he tells us are taking the issues surrounding climate change, energy security, food and water shortages very seriously. He talks about what the world will look like if the warming of 3-4 degrees that many scientists actually believe will happen over the next 40-50 years. To put this in context when the world was 4-5 degrees cooler than now it was in the midst of an ice age where cities like London and New York were permanently covered in ice, it is a world so dramatically different to the one now as to be almost unrecognizable. As Gwynne describes, oceans don’t warm nearly as much the land will, so for every degree of average planet wide warming there will be a much higher impact on the land (depending where you are). The main impact of this will be in food production and to quote Gwynne, “people raid before they starve” (I like Rage Against the Machine “hungry people don’t stay hungry for long”) and this will have massive implications in terms of climate refugees, migration, political upheaval and potential conflict over water and food resources. This is what the US military is worried about.
Now I will classify Mr Dyer as a gloomer (although looking at the evidence it is very easy to be one) so I do take all the details of what he says with a pinch of salt. But this talk is not about if his prediction of the future is correct, but rather a what if. What if we don’t get our act together and make the changes to our entire energy and economic infrastructure to totally decarbonise our economy within the next 40 years. In that scenario what options will be left open to us? Mr Dyer contends that geo-engineering (through manipulation of the amount of solar radiation that would hit the earth’s surface) could be the most contentious geo-political issue in the future. The relative ease and low expense of injecting sulfur particles into the air would be fair cheaper and more effective than reducing emissions and so countries that could loose a lot, such as Bangladesh, may be compelled to act without global agreement even though the risks of such an action will be shared by everyone on the planet. The proverbial kid peeing in the swimming pool.
Definitely worth a watch as Gwynne has thought a lot about a future which most of us would not like to contemplate but one that increasingly looks more and more probable.
On a side note, I do feel that I need to point out to all the military strategists that if the US Military didn’t take half of the budget and instead diverted a significant chunk of those funds towards phasing out fossil fuels we could probably avoid the whole situation.Adaption, Climate Change, Climate Destabilisation, Economy, Geo-engineering, Global Warming, Military, Mitigation
I discovered this brilliant Channel 4 documentary series late night on TV which tracks man’s struggle with a constantly evolving climate over our last 200,000 years of history. Climate change is not new and the show goes back in time to try and discover how various groups of humans dealt with the challenges of changing weather patterns which affected their ability to feed themselves and have enough water to survive. Some groups were successful in adapting, some weren’t. It will likely be the same story for us in the future, but unlike then, the sheer number of us on the planet today will be another huge factor in how we can adapt. It also highlights how humans have flourished only in the last few thousand years during a period of almost unusual climate stability.
Will the modern human with it’s knowledge base and technology be able to adapt to the now inevitable changes to our climate that are already locked in and will we be smart enough to avoid the more disastrous changes that are on the cards if we don’t change our ways.
I unfortunately cannot embed the videos so you’ll have to click the link on the episode heading but the copy and paste job of the episode description should help.
Tony Robinson explores how a small group of our earliest African ancestors were rescued from extinction by the last great global warming 130,000 years ago. The barren landscape surrounding the oases in which they lived was transformed to lush savannah, enabling them to traverse the continent and eventually make it to Europe. As temperatures rose, so they would also later fall: in the Russia steppes Dr Joy Singarayer finds out how the European Homo Sapiens adapted to survive the last great Ice Age. But not all humans coped so well. In Gibraltar, Tony finds the last resting place of our Neanderthal ‘cousins’. Lacking our ‘social brains’, which enabled us to trade and get help from outsiders, the Neanderthals starved, dying out in lonely communities, and even resorting to cannibalism.
Tony Robinson traces how global warming at the end of the last Ice Age was the catalyst for the dawn of civilisation, but also unleashed devastation. Twelve thousand years ago our planet emerged from the last great Ice Age, with temperatures rising by five degrees in just a few decades. After 190,000 years living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were forced to change with the world around them. In Europe the rise in temperature unleashed an agricultural revolution, while in North Africa around 7,000 years ago a savage drought led Saharan refugees to settle along the River Nile. In the limited space they had to learn new skills and form new social structures, going on to found the Kingdom of Egypt. Five hundred years later this same global warming triggered catastrophe as Canadian ice sheets containing 900,000 trillion tonnes of water melted into the Atlantic, causing massive flooding. In less than a year Britain was amputated from mainland Europe, and the Black Sea was formed, washing out the pioneer farmers from that region. What happened to the people that had cultivated this fertile land changed the future of the continent.
Tony Robinson picks through the ruins of three great civilisations from the last 2,000 years to ask what made these civilisations more vulnerable to climate catastrophe than the ones who survived. In the jungles of Central America he investigates how decades-long drought brought the advanced Mayan civilisation to an apocalyptic end, resorting to human sacrifices to plead to their gods for salvation. Dr Joy Singarayer travels to the extraordinary landscape of Greenland to discover how the mini-Ice Age of the 13th century wiped out the ‘advanced’ Vikings, while their ‘savage’ Inuit neighbours developed new tools and strategies to stay alive. Meanwhile, in the deserts of America’s southwest, Dr Jago Cooper investigates the climate crisis that made the Puebloan inhabitants of extraordinary cliff cities homeless 750 years ago.
Tony Robinson examines societies similar to our own, who not only survived climate change, but flourished. In Peru the Hauri people embraced a savage drought, developed advanced techniques of water management and founded a great empire, itself the basis of the great Inca nation. In Europe, Tony learns how a mini-Ice Age triggered the Black Death; but rather than cripple medieval Europe it launched a period of unprecedented progression. The Industrial Revolution and globalisation were hastened by the benefits of a stable climate, but Tony also learns how this stability appears to be ending, bringing a new threat to human societies.Climate Change, Climate Destabilisation, Climate Science, environment, Global Warming
This hour long Channel 4 “documentary” contends that some of the positions that the green movement has taken in the past, particularly on nuclear power and genetically modified foods has been wrong and has actually not helped the general aims of the movement get where it wants to go. It suggests that parts of the green movement is now trapped in an ideological corner and needs to reconsider it’s position on these key issues.
The follow up discussion on the Channel 4 (UK) youtube channel will help put some of the points made in the doco into perspective although it highlights that there still isn’t a consensus view on much in the green movement still. But I suppose with such a big subject and with so much at stake it will be almost impossible to take the human emotion out of the debate. Passionate people can be a help and also a hinderance.
The reason why i put documentary in quotation marks is that this video is more of an opinion piece than a real documentary. I in fact agree with a fair chunk of what stance the doco made (nuclear is the lesser evil and I am ambivalent about GM) but as the debate after the show highlights, the complexity of the issues involved cannot be simplified into a 60 minute video. Also you cannot label the green movement with a single brush. Just as with the Occupy Wall St movement, it captures a broad cross section of people who all involved for very different reasons and want many different things.
But it does raise the question of what is going wrong and why the most consequential issue on the planet right now is fading from the political landscape. Not having a consensus on issues such as nuclear cannot help the fact that the issue of climate change is not resonating with people at the moment.Climate Change, Climate Destabilisation, environment, Nuclear